Parents of fearful dogs or those that suffer chronic anxiety can attest to how truly distressing it is to see their pets labor to thrive in the world around them. From timidity around strangers to outright hostility towards other dogs to even fear of an umbrella or your furry slippers, canine anxiety is a real thing which can sometimes be a lot for pet owners.

The good thing is that with a lot of patience and a few practical but efficient techniques, this issue can eventually be a thing of the past.

How Do I Know If My Dog Lacks Confidence?

It is important to first determine whether or not your pet suffers anxiety. To figure this out, look out for certain signs and pay close attention to their body language. Generally, when dogs feel fearful, they give a number of signals.

  • Tails tucked between their hind legs
  • Lip licking
  • Yawning
  • Flattened ears
  • Sudden, frequent scratching of their bodies
  • Raised hair on the backs of their necks
  • Cowering
  • Avoiding eye contact

Physical Signs Your Dog May Be Feeling Anxious

In addition to certain body languages, dogs also exhibit particular behaviors when they are scared. Growling, pacing, whining, aggressive as well as destructive behaviors, excessive barking and urinating can be actions your dog may display when afraid.

There are also certain involuntary actions that would show your pet is anxious. Some of these include trembling, panting, drooling and dilated pupils.

5 Tips on Building Confidence in Your Dog

With regards to treating and dealing with fearful dogs, professionals have varying views. The degree of anxiety and fear sometimes differ from dog to dog. For instance, shelter dogs that have suffered severe physical abuse are particularly difficult to treat while those with a milder level of fear can be helped at home by loving and patient but persistent owners.

The first step in correcting this issue is to figure out its cause. As mentioned before, maltreated dogs are typically more wary of humans and knowing this would enable you tailor his or her treatment based on this information. Some other canines might be fearful of particular objects and would require a different approach.

  • Control and Manage the Environment

One way to manage nervousness in dogs is by controlling the environment he or she is in by purposely removing things their trigger fear. For instance, you could try leaving your pet in his or her playpen or crate when there are unknown faces at home. You may also try generally staying away from things that are likely to cause anxiety.

Although, this doesn’t fully deal with the problem of fearfulness and is only a palliative measure, it could help temporarily while you find a way to completely remove the fear. The reason you can’t stop at this stage is that there is only so much you can do to manage the surroundings. It would be impossible to hide your dog from everything that makes them afraid. That’s why it’s important to consider more thorough methods to treat this issue.

  • Agility Training

You can help to effectively build your pet’s confidence by engaging them in agility training and canine sports such as tall dog walks and jumping over poles. Agility training is great for a number of reasons.

  • You and your dog learn bespoke communication skills
  • The completion of set tasks and challenges develops confidence in him or her
  • Most importantly, trust for you is built in your pet

The activities should be introduced with ease. The aim is to teach your dog to follow your lead and instructions. Whenever challenges are completed, a healthy dose of praise and rewards goes a long way in letting him or her know they are doing good, thereby gradually growing their confidence.

Once your shy pet can finish less complicated tasks, you can then begin to set more difficult ones not just when it comes to agility sports but in other areas of his or her life. The more tasks are completed, the more self-assurance and trust in you are built.

  • Obedience Training

A good number of dog owners swear by obedience training. This technique is useful because most dogs that suffer from anxiety become more confident as a result of routine and a more regulated life. An effective place to start is to teach them the basic commands such as ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘lie down’. For this, you would need best dog food and toys. Have a good amount of treats on hand. If your canine friend is not a big fan of treats, you could use his or her favorite rope toy for tug of war games.

The primary benefit of obedience training is that you are able to create a mode of communication with your pet which enables you gain control over their actions. The idea behind it is to bring your dog momentary distraction by taking his or her mind away from the source of fear.

When we as humans come across a thing we are afraid of, it is hard to focus on anything else. It is the same way for dogs – when your pet is exposed to something they are fearful of, that thing is all they see. It is difficult for them to concentrate on anything other than what is getting them nervous. Obedience training helps to bring their focus back to you and away from what is making them anxious.

As with agility training, obedience training also develops your pet’s trust in you. When your dog trusts that you would never bring harm to them, they are able to effortlessly follow your lead. Therefore, you are able to more effectively redirect their attention from the thing that is causing the fearful behavior.

  • Desensitization

Desensitization involves deliberately exposing your dog to the thing that makes him or her scared. You would then begin feeding them treats until either the situation goes away or your dog becomes used to it. The level of exposure should be initially done at a low level, though, because too much too soon can cause your pet to break down.

For example, when taking walks, if you see a stranger close by who is willing to participate in this exercise, you could feed your dog treats. Make sure this person is not too near that your pet becomes uneasy. Get the stranger to move away then stop feeding. When the person comes close again, carry on feeding. Repeat these steps with the stranger coming closer each time.

Another way to do this is, particularly if your dog is afraid of a specific item, is to scatter really rewarding food and toys around the object of fear. For instance, if your pet is scared of a hat, you can place pieces of meat or cheese in a bowl close to it, which would attract your dog. Once your dog has gotten to a distance that is comfortable for him or her, move the hat and the bowl a little closer to them. If your dog remains unafraid, move the items closer and keep doing so until your dog eventually connects the thing they are afraid of to good experiences.

  • Get Professional Help

In a number of situations, applying the previously mentioned techniques work amazingly well. However, sometimes you may only see improvements in your dog’s behavior and not a complete rehabilitation, which should be the most preferred result.

Enlisting the help of a professional animal behaviorist or dog trainer is highly advised in order to successfully retrain a dog that experiences extreme anxiety. Doing it on your own may simply be too overwhelming for you.

Some Important Points of Which to be Aware

  • Start from far away

Ensure that you give your dog the chance to conquer his or her fears from afar. This is because the closer your dog gets to the stimuli, it becomes much more difficult to distract them, no matter how effective the technique is. Once you notice you have crossed the limit of your dog’s comfort, step back a bit and seek to figure out the distance that works best for them.

  • Begin slowly

It is important to not force things nor rush the process. Ensure you take your time and gently bring exposure to things that trigger your dog’s anxious behavior, whether it is related to strangers, a particular object or other dogs.

  • Never yell or punish your dog

Yelling or punishing your pet never does anything to alleviate the discomfort they feel. This actually only does the opposite, especially in dogs that have experienced brutality and neglect in the past.

It is a great desire of dog owners to see their pets live a balanced, well-socialized life – one where they get on well with both humans as well as other canines. As heartbreaking as it is owning a fearful dog, it is a problem that can be dealt with. Try any or a combination of the suggested techniques to come to the conclusion of which is best for you and your pet.


About the Author: Lisa Smith is a passionate dog trainer whose interest in taking care of animals continues to grow with each passing day. She started out working as a volunteer in different pet shops where she gained more experience and knowledge about pet training. But now, Lisa does not only enjoy her private training classes with pets. She happily shares most of her tips on pettrainingtip.com